OMAHA, Nebraska - U.S. tycoon Warren Buffett yesterday announced his acquisition of 80 percent of Galilee-based Iscar Metalworking for $4 billion. The move is Buffett's first significant deal outside the U.S. and the third largest deal he has ever made.
"We are investing $4 billion in an amazing band of people from Israel," Buffett told TheMarker yesterday.
He also didn't rule out investing in additional Israeli companies. "If your readers know a company that resembles Iscar, even a little, have them call me immediately. I want to buy. Let them call me collect."
The deal values Iscar, a leading private manufacturer of advanced cutting tools, at $5 billion and will make its owners, Stef and Eitan Wertheimer, the richest family in Israel. Iscar has its factories concentrated in the Tefen industrial zone and has additional plants around the world.
Buffett, chair and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway said in his interview with TheMarker that "in another five or ten years, we'll look back and understand that what we declared here is one of the most significant things Berkshire Hathaway has ever done. Iscar will be a very large and important company."
Asked what he intended to do with management after acquiring the company, Buffett responded, "We'll let them be. This is why we bought the company. At Berkshire we are 16 people in total, even though the companies in our investment portfolio employ 200,000 people. Our job is only to choose the best players, and usually, like in Iscar's case, the players are there when we buy the companies. I wouldn't dream of changing Iscar's management make-up."
Buffett noted he expects the entire Iscar management to remain in place, including President Jacob Harpaz. Iscar President Eitan Wertheimer said that "as members of the Berkshire family, we'll be able to enjoy a stable platform committed to ongoing success."
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called Eitan Wertheimer last night to congratulate him on the sale. "It's terrific tidings and a great gift to the State of Israel", Olmert said. "We tip our hat to you, personally and in the name of the whole country." The Prime Minister's Office commented that Wertheimer "thanked the prime minister."
Eitan Wertheimer said selling the company for him is "lighting an economic torch," just as his father Stef lit a torch on Independence Day. According to him, Buffett's expression of faith is an important declaration for the country, "and just as they talked about the Balfour Declaration - now they'll talk about the Buffett Declaration." Olmert will speak with Buffett today. A government source said Olmert was indirectly involved in the deal.
Buffett told the annual meeting yesterday that he plans to visit Israel this year.
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